President Trump on Thursday defended new restrictions on travelers from most parts of Europe, a decision that angered allies and trading partners, was questioned by some public health experts and sent stock markets reeling.
Trump told reporters that he viewed the ban as one way to protect Americans from the spreading virus, and he predicted the stock market would eventually bounce back. “It’s not important compared to life and death,” Trump said in the Oval Office, where he met with the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar.
“You have to have separation, or this thing takes longer to go away,” he said.
Trump said he didn’t warn European leaders before he made the decision because “it takes a long time to make the individual calls” but said he spoke to some leaders.
He said Americans returning from Europe would be tested for the virus and would not be allowed into the country if they had the virus. The Department of Homeland Security has said Americans and permanent residents returning to the country who have traveled in the Schengen visa region in the past 14 days will be screened, but there are no announced plans to test them for the coronavirus.
“We’re not putting them on planes if it shows positive,” Trump said. The returning travelers are being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Trump said the United Kingdom was excluded from the ban because “they’re doing a very good job” controlling the virus. “They don’t have very much infection at this point, and hopefully they’ll keep it that way.”
Johns Hopkins University‘s tracking shows that the U.K. currently has 459 cases, compared with more than 1,300 in the United States and more than 12,000 in Italy.
Trump also said he would curb his own travel — a shift from last week, when he had brushed off suggestions that he cancel political rallies that draw thousands of supporters. On Thursday, he said his travel would be postponed until the situation had improved. Trump said he canceled three events in Nevada and said his campaign probably won’t go ahead with a rally planned for Tampa, Fla., on March 25.
Asked whether he would consider travel restrictions within the United States to prevent people from spreading the virus between regions, Trump said he could possibly consider that step “if an area gets too hot.”
Trump has been focused on measures to stimulate the economy. He acknowledged that his preferred measure — a payroll tax cut — was unlikely to quickly advance. Democrats and some Republicans have opposed that proposal.
He said he would work with Congress, where House Democrats were readying to vote on a package. “We’re dealing with Democrats in Congress. We’ll see what can be done,” he said.
Trump said he did not fully support the Democratic bill, saying there were “goodies” included “that have nothing to do with what we’re talking about,” but he did not give details.
He declined to say whether he would declare a national emergency to free up Stafford Act funds. “If I need to do something, I’ll do it,” he said.
Trump also talked about the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Russia over oil production, noting it would result in lower gasoline prices. “That’s like a tax cut,” he said.
There were signs of other changes to respond to the growing risks of the coronavirus.
After insisting last week that he would continue shaking hands with people, Trump said that he did not shake hands with Varadkar at the White House on Thursday.
“It’s a very strange feeling,” Trump said.
Added Varadkar: “It feels like you’re being rude, but we just can’t afford to think like that for the next few weeks.”